Game: Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Tag Force
System: PlayStation Portable
Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Tag Force is the first game in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise to be released for the PSP. While other conversions of the curiously popular card game have suffered from poor presentation (World Championship 2007), or abridged rulesets (Forbidden Memories), Tag Force delivers a faithful and vibrant adaption and supports, as its namesake would suggest, tag duelling as well. Additionally, the plot follows the GX anime’s first season incredibly closely, offering both overt and subtle fan-service throughout. Although card animations are sparse, and despite the narrow scope of the game the sense of aimlessness is prevalent, this title can be squarely recommended to fans of the anime or of card games in general even though others should take the ‘rent-first’ approach.
While there is an RPG tacked onto it, Tag Force is first and foremost a card game simulation. As a new student at the illustrious Duel Academy, you have the ability to explore the island on which it is situated and mingle with the likes of Jaden, Zane and so forth. The player is denied complete freedom though, as exploration is limited to places of particular importance- a map screen of nodes allows you to zip around but not take the more picturesque routes. Encounters with characters are one-line back and forth affairs but what is said is both dependent on what pre-canned question you open with, and the context of the situation, so there is a fair amount of dialogue in there... somewhere. The fact is, apart from during the first scenario in which you have to intentionally make friends with your future tag partner by talking to them a lot (you can choose any of the student duelists on the island), there won’t be time for much chit-chat at all amongst all the duelling you will have do to. A clock is ticking behind the curtain as well, and every warp between locations or duel ticks off 15 minutes from the current day- and you only have 99 days to recruit that partner of yours else its game over. The second and third parts of the game are concerned mostly with the tag tournament itself and battling the evil Shadow Riders from the cartoon, but at its core, the game is always just about duelling opponents.
Duelling itself, the somewhat pretentious term for playing cards with other children, really makes the world go round in Tag Force. The concept is simple- reduce your opponent’s designated number of Life Points (LP) to 0, using Monster cards Summoned or Special Summoned to the field, which can attack or defend against the enemy monsters and unguarded opponents themselves (should all their Monster cards be destroyed). Magic and Trap cards each have unique effects that add diversity to the gameplay. Unfortunately the system lacks the depth of other TCGs, CCGs and the like, and winning duels often comes down to outmuscling the other player with a stronger, more consistent stream of good draws. Victory will inevitably consist more of what cards your deck contains than how they are played. The mechanic is what it is, but Tag Force uses 3d-animation sequences for characters and a limited number of key Monster cards to keep battles more interesting than they might otherwise become. Since they interrupt the flow of battle, you’ll likely end up turning them off. Too bad, then, that the voice-overs by the cast of the anime, present in the Japanese version, are also replaced by bland subtitles in the English release. Finally, the same background and music for each battle will become more monotonous than grinding the same area in an old Final Fantasy ever was. Considering the game is all about duelling, you will definitely notice a few key themes permanently become etched into your memory. All in all, the game flounders in trying to ‘spice up’ the core card game, but that is likely all most people will pick up this game for anyway.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is nothing without cards, and luckily Tag Force (at least as of its release), contains the largest collection of cards of any video game adaption. While more of the common GX cards will be all you’ll see for a while, classics such as the Red Eyes Black Dragon are there to be found after a bit of digging. Duels reward ‘GP’ for both wins and losses which can then be spent at the card shop to buy booster packs of cards. Each is from a unique set and contains only one rare from that selection of cards as well. If your deck demands 3 of a certain rare card, you’ll be buying packs in rapid succession, but they are cheap enough for it to be viable to do so. New sets are unlocked after completing specific objectives ranging from befriending certain characters to acquiring a set percentage of cards from the previous set. Up to date rules also limit the game in certain ways- overpowered cards like ‘Raigeki’ are banned and stronger cards such as ‘Jinzo’ are limited to one per deck. There are still a few poignant exceptions to the card roster- you won’t find the legendary god cards in Tag Force for example.
Managing the thousands of cards in your possession and constructing decks is breeze thanks to an intuitive interface for cycling and sorting cards. The 40-card deck provided at the outset will quickly be augmented with bought cards, or the free cards handed out every time you attend one of Dr. Crowler’s lectures, but the first deck need not be lost as an infinite amount of ‘deck recipes’ can be saved and reconstructed instantly. If anything, browsing a library of cards sometimes makes you want to shell out 10,000GP on Machine packs just to get the rare ‘Cyber Dragons’ you need to complete your collection, but realistically searching for all the cards can take a lifetime. As if that wasn’t enough, Konami also offers card downloads via an infrastructure connection, but this feature has so far been used to ill effect and, considering the looming release of a sequel, seems unlikely it ever will be.
The card game’s translation may be strong, and the presentation mediocre, but Tag Force has some serious shortcomings in other areas. It attempts to follow the storyline of the anime, and, to its credit, manages to quite well, but has an awful pacing. You have almost one hundred days to find a tag partner. Considering that you can manage to do a hell of a lot in one day, and that you must manually ‘go to sleep’ to end the current day, navigating through months of in-game time is tedious to say the least. Also, since it is not unlikely that you will put together a deck competent enough to see you to the game’s end in maybe 20 or so game-days, the question of what to do for the rest of its time is very prominent. The inept attempt to wrap an RPG around a card game becomes obvious in the shocking amount of time you have to amuse yourself. Talking to, and duelling, the same people over and over again is no fun at all. There are some sideplots and time-based events, but the sense of aimlessness will definitely get to you. It doesn’t help that, as mentioned, battles take the same course (and to the same music) again and again.
Fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! and those that like the idea of skilling up in a collectible card game without dishing out hard-earned cash for countless booster packs, or without similarly-minded friends to trade with, will find Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Tag Force right up their alley. For the rest of you, this could inspire a card-collecting obsession or deep-seated resent at being fleeced out of the RRP. Tag Force does what it needs to do right well- it boasts a solid card-collecting and card–playing mechanic as well as a tacked-on RPG that, while inept, at least holds some value for those who are familiar with the anime. While more and better-integrated battle effects, and a little voice-over work, could have done something to convert the non-believers, this game is what it essentially needs to be, and is perhaps the most accomplished specimen amongst all the Yu-Gi-Oh! video games available at the moment. Ultimately this game is a not-to-be-missed title for those inclined toward this kind of thing, but a ‘try before you buy’ prospect for everyone else.
The good thing is, if you find that Tag Force is your thing, there are hours worth of play to be had... and you’ll know pretty soon in whether it is or not.